Stress, Portrait of a Killer – Full Documentary (2008)

Stress, Portrait of a Killer – Full Documentary (2008)

What am I thinking about? Mortgage, debt, money pouring out… And I felt a lump …I know cancer when I feel it. Where is she? What is she up to? Never calling, never saying a word… Stress. It is everyone’s inferno, bedevilling our minds, igniting our nights, upending our equilibrium, but it hasn’t
always been so. Once, its purpose was to save us. if you’re a normal mammal, what stress
about is three minutes of screaming terror
on the savannah, after which it’s either over with you or you are over with. But everything changed. What once helped us survive has now
become the scourge of our lives. And I just burst into tears, and wept, and wept. Today, scientific discoveries, in the field and in the lab, prove that stress is not a state of mind,
but something measurable and dangerous. This is not an abstract
concept. It’s not something that maybe someday you should do something about.
You need to attend to it today. In some of the most unexpected
places, scientists are revealing just how lethal
stress can be. Chronic stress could do something as
unsubtle and grotesque as kill some of your
brain cells. The impact of stress can be found deep
within us, shrinking our brains, adding fat to our bellies, even
unraveling our chromosomes. This is real this is not just somebody whining. Stress… savior, tyrant, plague… its portrait revealed. This program was made possible by
contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank
you. All of us have a personal
relationship with stress, but few of us know how it operates
within us, or understand how the onslaught of the
modern world can stress us to the point of death. Fewer still know what we can do about
it. But over the last three decades, Stanford
University neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky, has been advancing our
understanding of stress, how it impacts our bodies, and how our social standing can make us more or less susceptible. Is the aggregate
bad news and more… Most of the time, you can find him teaching and researching in the high-achieving, high-stressed world of
brain science. The paper is this huge contrast between… class… But that’s only part of his
story. For a few weeks every year or so,
Sapolsky shifts his lab to a place more than 9,000 miles away on the plaines of the Masai Mara Reserve,
in Kenya, East Africa. Robert Sapolsky first came to Africa
over 30 years ago on a hunch. He suspected he could find out more
about human stress and disease by looking at non-humans, and he knew just the non-humans. You live in a place like this, you are a
baboon, and you only have to spend about three hours a day getting your calories. And if you only have to work three hours
a day, you got nine hours of free time every day to devote to making somebody else just
miserable They’re not being stressed by lions
chasing them all the time, they are being stressed by each other. They’re
being stressed by social and psychological tumult invented by their own species. They are a perfect model for Westernized stress-related disease. To determine just what toll stress was
taking on their bodies, Sapolsky wanted to look inside these
wild baboons at the cellular level for the very first time. To do this he would have to take their blood in the
most unassuming way. Basically, what you’re trying to do is anaesthetize a baboon, without him knowing it’s coming.
Because you don’t want to have any of this anticipatory stress, so you can’t just, you know, get in your jeep
and chase the baboon up and down the field for three hours, and finally when he’s
winded, dart him with an anesthetic. Now, the big advantages of a blow gun are that it’s pretty much silent, and hasn’t a whole lot of moving parts,
but the big drawback is that it doesn’t go very far. So what you
spend just a bizarre amount of time doing, is
trying to figure out how to look nonchalant around a baboon. Got him… Time? Okay, he is wobbling now. Whoop, there he goes. From each baboon blood sample, Robert measured
levels of hormones central to the stress response. Well, to make sense of what’s happening in
your body, you’ve got these two hormones that are the workhorses of the
whole stress response. One of them we all know adrenaline, American version, epinephrine,
the other is a less known hormone called
glucocorticoids that comes out of the adrenal gland along with adrenaline and these are
the two backbones of the stress response. That stress response and those two hormones are critical to
our survival. Because what stress is about is that somebody
is very intent on eating you, or you are very intent on eating
somebody, and there is immediate crisis going on. When you run for your life, basics are all that matter. Lungs work
overtime to pump mammoth quantities of oxygen into the bloodstream. The heart races to pump that oxygen
throughout the body so muscles respond instantly. You need
your blood pressure up to deliver that energy. You need to turn off anything that is not
essential… growth, reproduction, you know, you’re running for your life this is no
time to ovulate, tissue repair, all that sort of thing… do
it later, if there is a later. When the zebra escapes, its stress
response shuts down. But human beings can’t seem to find
their off switch. We turn on the exact same
stress response for purely psychological states… thinking
about the ozone layer, the taxes coming up,
mortality, 30-year mortgages… we turn on the
same stress response and the key difference there is, we’re not doing it for real
physiological reason and we’re doing it non-stop. By not turning off the stress response
when reacting to life’s traffic jams, we wallow in a corrosive bath of hormones. Even though it’s not life or death, we hyperventilate, our hearts pound, muscles tense. Ironically, after a while the stress
response is more damaging than the stressor itself, because the stressor is some psychological
nonsense that you’re falling for. No zebra on Earth, running for
its life, would understand why… fear of speaking in public would cause you to secrete the same
hormones that it’s doing at that point to save its life. Stress is the the body’s way of rising to
a challenge, whether the challenge is life-threatening,
trivial or fun. You get the right amount of stress and we
call it stimulation. The goal in life is not to get rid of stress,
the goal in life is to have the right type of stress, because when it is the right type, we love it. We jump out of our seats to experience it,
we pay good money to get stressed that way. It tends to be a moderate stressor, where you’ve
got a stressor that’s transient… it’s not for nothing roller coaster rides are not
three weeks long. And most of all, what they are about is that you
relinquish a little bit of control in a setting that overall feels safe. but in real life for so many of us
primates including Roberts baboons control is not an option. Here you have a
big male who loses a fight and chases a sub-adult who bites on a female who slaps a
juvenile that knocks an infant out of a tree, all in fifteen seconds you know in so far as a huge component of
stress is lack of control, lack of predictability
you’re sitting there and just watching the zebra and somebody else is having a bad day and it is your rear-end that is going to get slashed some tremendously psychologically stressful for for the folks further down on the hierarchy. One of
Roberts early revelations was identifying the
link between stress and hierarchy in baboons. Some baboons troops are over 100 strong like us they have evolved large brains
to navigate the complexities of large societies survival here requires a kind of baboon political savvy with the most
cunning and aggressive males gaining top rank and all the perks, females for the choosing, all the food
they can eat and an endless retenue of willing
groomers. Every male knows where he stands in society who can torture him whom he can torture and who in turn the torturee can
torture Well it sound like a terrible thing to confess
after thirty years but I don’t actually like baboons all that much and there
has been individual guys over the years that I absolutely love but they are these scheming, back-stabbing machiavellian bastards that hurt each
other so they’re great for my science, I mean I’m
not out here to commune with them they’re perfect for what I study.
22 years ago at the age of 30 Sapolsky’s landmark
research earned him the MacArthur Foundation’s
Genius fellowship his early work measuring stress hormones from extracted
blood led to two remarkable discoveries a baboon’s rank determine the level of
stress hormone in his system so if you’re a dominant male you can
expect your stress hormones to be low and if you are submissive much higher, but there was an even
more revealing find in Sapolsky’s sample of low rankers the have-nots had increased heart rates and higher blood pressure. This was the
first time anyone had linked stress to the
deteriorating health of a primate in the wild. Basically if you’re a stressed, unhealthy
baboon in a typical troop high blood pressure. elevated levels of
stress hormones, you have an immune system that doesn’t work as well your reproductive system is more
vulnerable to being knocked out of whack your brain chemistry is one that has
some similarity to what you see in clinically depressed humans and all that stuff those are not
predictors of a hale and hearty old age could this also be true for that other primate as Robert Sapolsky was monitoring stress in baboons
professor Sir Michael Marmot was leading a study in Great Britain they
tracked the health of more than 28,000 people over the course of forty
years it was named for Whitehall, citadel of the British civil
service where every job is ranked in a precise hierarchy the perfect laboratory to determine
whether in humans there might be a link between rank and
stress I mean that’s the thing about stress I
think you’ve got to look at it in both acute terms and chronic terms I think
I’ve been under chronic stress in this organization simply because I’m
a square peg in a round hole Kevin Brooks is a government lawyer, his
rank level 7 means he has little seniority in
his department he lives the life of a subordinate I think what I was most aware of at the
time was the workload and how I had most of it under control but one of my
cases wasn’t wholly under control I let it slip
and it was a bit like being in a car hitting an
ice patch and skating but nonetheless I came in Monday morning and my immediate
manager let’s call him Ben, then wants a word
with you, so we find a room he shuts the door, then he says you know what you have
done you know what happened while you were away we
couldn’t find one of your files Do you know what that meant? He just gave me a good kicking, psychologically he did me over and at the end of it it was more threats. It was right
that’s maybe a disciplinary matter so I left the room crossed over the
corridor to my own room and I just burst into tears and wept and
wept Sarah Woodall also works for the
government unlike Kevin she is a senior civil
servant there about a hundred and sixty people
reporting to me ultimately one way or another within the sector. I do really enjoy working with our service
it’s quite a dynamic environment, it can be quite exciting I like working with lots of people I do really enjoy my job. Such
dramatically different reflections dramatize one of the most astounding
scientific findings in the Whitehall study firstly it showed that the lower you were in the hierarchy the
higher your risk of heart disease and other diseases, so people second from
the top had higher risk than those at the top
people third from the top had a higher risk than those second from the top and
it ran all the way from top to bottom. We are
dealing with people in stable jobs with no industrial exposures and yet your position in the hierarchy intimately related to your risk of disease and lenght of life. I’ve been very
lucky I have never experienced any problems with
my health since I’ve been in the senior service I haven’t had a day off with ill health, I’ve been very
fortunate In my own situation I think that my career is pretty much tainted, is pretty much arrested because I have had, for instance, for the
last three years at work I’ve been off sick for probably half that time. This
particular study is sort of the Rosetta Stone of a whole field because it’s the British civil service system,
everybody’s got the same medical care everybody’s got the same universal
health care system just like the baboons all the baboons eat
the same thing, they have the same level of activity it’s not the stuff that oh if you’re a
low-ranking baboon you smoke to much and you drink too much and if you’re a
low-ranking british civil service guy you never go to the doctor and you
don’t get preventive vaccines both of this studies rule out all this confounds and they produce virtually identical
findings. On both sides of the primate divide there are soul wrenching stories and
life-threatening consequences For every subordinate like Kevin living a life of baboon uncertainty there
is an alpha strutting his stuff, glorying in power over someone else someone unsuspecting someone low ranking Got him. 12:46 do either of you see where the
dart is? Yes. Okay guys who do you think
is higher-ranking? Our guy… Yes. Much carefully make sure the other guy
doesn’t hassle him. this year Robert brought his family to
Africa his wife neuropsychologist Lisa
Sapolsky has also done extensive research with
baboons and for the first time they brought
along their kids Benjamin and Rachel. As asleep as he looks… all the baboons are perfectly
willing to get very freaked out by a human coming over and touching one of
these guys but cover him with a burlap and he doesn’t exist anymore oh my God he’s there, he’s… not there
anymore this is not quite like taking your kids to
work day but it’s a pretty central feature of who I am by now and who my wife and I
are and kids want to know where we came from and this is pretty fundamental. As in
previous seasons Robert measures how individuals at every
level of the baboon hierarchy reacts to and recovers from stress So what we’re doing it is, we’re now going to
challenge the system with increasing doses of epinephrine the baboon’s response is immediately picked
up in its blood vital signs that can be deep frozen in
perpetuity It’s this storehouse of potential knowledge and I
got 30 years of those blood samples frozen away at this point because you never know when some new hormone or some
new something or other pops up and that is the thing to look at and start pulling out this
samples back to when you know Jimmy Carter was
president. 150… 125… Anticipating the long reach of stress is
a recent idea, for one when robert was Rachel’s age,
scientists believed stress was the cause of only one major problem. This is a
picture of a major american personnel problem… an ugly sore that
doctors call a peptic ulcer eating away at the wall of a man’s
stomach. Those stomach pains that you talk about, the gnawing, the burning, those are obvious symptoms of
gastric ulcer. Thirty years ago, what’s the disease that
comes to everybody’s mind when you mention stress… it’s ulcers, stress
and ulcers. And this was the first stress related disease
discovered, in fact 70 years ago. What I want you to do is to work on your attitude. My attitude? That’s right. Ulcers breed on the wrong kind of feelings. You’ve got to be honest with yourself
about the way you feel about it. Finding a new doctor sounds like a better
answer to me. The connection between stress and ulcers was mainstream medical gospel
until the early 1980s. Then Australian researchers identified a
bacteria as the major cause of ulcers. And this overthrew the entire field, this was, it’s got nothing to do with stress, it’s
a bacterial disorder. And I’m willing to bet half the
gastroenterologists on Earth when they heard about this, went out and celebrated
that night. This was, like, the greatest news… never again were they going to have to sit
down their patients, and make eye contact and ask them how is it going, so, anything stressful… it’s got nothing to do with stress, it’s a
bacterial disorder… So no longer would the solution be stress management, now it could be something as simple as a
pill. It was a major breakthrough. Stress
didn’t cause ulcers. Case closed. But a few years later, the research took a new twist. Scientists
discovered that this ulcer-causing bacteria wasn’t unique… in
fact, as much as two thirds of the world’s
population has it. So why do only a fraction of these
people develop ulcers? Research revealed that when stressed, the body begins shutting down all
non-essential systems, including the immune system. And it
became clear that, if you shut down the immune system,
stomach bacteria can run amok… Because what the stress
does, is wipe out the ability of your body to
begin to repair your stomach walls when they start rotting away from this
bacteria… So stress can cause ulcers by disrupting our
body’s ability to heal itself. If stress can undermine the immune
system, what other havoc can it wreak? One
answer comes from a colony of captive macaque monkeys near Winston-Salem, North Carolina. People
think of stress as something that keeps them up at night, or something that makes them yell at their
kids. But, when you ask me, what is stress, I say look at it, it’s this huge plaque in this artery, that’s what stress is. For two decades doctor Carol Shively has been studying the arteries of macaques. Like baboons and British Civil
Servants, these primates organize themselves into
distinctly hierarchical groups, and subject one another to social stress. Stress hormones can trigger an intense
negative cardiovascular response, a pounding heart, at increased blood
pressure So if stress follows rank, would the
cardiovascular system of a high-ranking macaque, call him a primate CEO, be different from
his subordinate? When Shively looked at the arteries of a
dominant monkey, one with little history of stress, its
arteries were clean. But a subordinate monkey’s arteries told a grim tale… A subordinate artery has lots more atherosclerosis build up inside it than a dominant artery has. Stress, and the resulting flood of
hormones, had increased blood pressure, damaging artery
walls, making them repositories for plaque. So now, when you feel threatened, your arteries
don’t expand, and your heart muscle doesn’t get more blood, and that can lead to a heart attack. This is not
an abstract concept, it’s not something that maybe someday you should do something
about, you need to attend to it today, because it’s affecting the way
your body functions, and a stress today will affect your
health tomorrow and for years to come. Social and psychological stress, whether macaque, human, or baboon, can
clog our arteries, restrict blood flow, jeopardize the
health of our heart… and that’s just the beginning of
stress’s deadly curse. Robert’s early research demonstrated that stress can work on us
in an even more frightening way. Well, back when I was starting in this business what I wound up focusing
on was what seemed an utterly implausible idea at
the time, which was chronic stress and chronic
exposure to glucocorticoids could do something as unsubtle
and grotesque as kill some of your brain cells. As a PhD
candidate at Rockefeller University in the early 80s, Sapolsky collaborated with his mentor,
doctor Bruce McEwan, to follow the path of stress into the
brain. They subjected lab rats to chronic stress, and then examined their brain cells. The
team made an astonishing find. While the cells of normal rat brains
have extensive branches, stressed rats brain cells were
dramatically smaller. And what was most interesting in many
ways was the part of the brain where this was happening… the hippocampus. You take Intro Neurobiology
anytime for the last 5000 years and what you learn is: hippocampus is learning and memory.
Stress in these rats shrank the part of their brain
responsible for memory. Stress affects memory in two ways. Chronic stress can actually change brain circuits, so that we lose the
capacity to remember things as we need to. Very
severe acute stress can have another effect, which is often… we refer to as stress
makes you stupid, which is making it impossible for you in, over short periods of time to
remember things you know perfectly well. We all know that phenomenon, we all know
that one, from back when we stressed ourselves by not getting any sleep at
all. And the next morning at nine o’clock, we
couldn’t remember a single thing for that final exam. You take a human and stress them
big-time, long time, and you’re going to have a hippocampus that
pays the price as well. In addition to undermining our health stress can make us feel plain miserable Carol Shively set out to find out why she began not with misery but with
pleasure Shively suspected that there was a link
between stress pleasure and where we stand on the
social hierarchy just like stress, pleasure is linked to
the chemistry of the brain when a neurotransmitter called dopamine
is released in the brain it binds to receptors signaling pleasure Shively used a positron emission tomography scanner to
examine the brain of a non-stressed primate our primate CEO. What we see is that the brains of dominant monkeys
light up bright with lots of dopamine binding in this area that is so important to
reward and feeling pleasure about life Shively then looked at the
subordinates brain. What we discovered is that the brains of
the subordinate monkeys are very dull because there’s much less receptor-binding going on in
this area. Why is that, what is it about this area
of the brain? When you have less dopamine everything around you that you would normally take
pleasure in, is less pleasurable. So the Sun doesn’t shine so bright, the grass is
not so green, food doesn’t taste as good. It’s because of
the way your brain is functioning that you’re doing that, and your brain is functioning that
way because you are low on the social status hierarchy. One
feature of low rank is being low ranking the reality, an even stronger feature by
the time you get to humans, is not just being low ranking or poor, it’s feeling low ranking or poor and one of the
best ways for society to make you feel like one of the have-nots is to rub your nose over and over and
over again with what you don’t have. Richmond California a town where societies extremes can be
spotted right from your car this is the regular commute of cardiologist Jeffrey Ritterman You can learn a lot about the distress
and health outcome just from the
neighborhoods you visit and in this neighborhood the life
expectancy is quite good and most of the people are pretty healthy
and as we reach the top of the hill it gets to be a little bit less privileged and as we make this
transition the social status begins to drop and correspondingly in those areas the health outcome is much worse
and these people are not going to have the same life expectancy as the people in that middle class
area we started in. People are on guard, people are vigilant,
they are living a more stressful life this is a community that produces high
stress hormones in people and overtime it takes its toll. One of
doctor Ritterman’s patient is 65-year-old Emanuel Johnson his career is guidance counselor in one of
America’s most dangerous neighborhoods well last year actually I think we had forty seven
homicides in the last four days we had
11 shootings three deaths and nine times out of ten it’s
going to be a relative or someone I bet the kids know. For Emanuel
Johnson there is a price for chronic exposure to
this stress five years ago I had a heart attack I’m a
diabetic too. I have to work on it constantly because I’ve been in this business twenty
years, so just it’s stressful just working the job, so over the years
that, you know the cholesterol, the blood pressure, the sugar came on later but the stress was always in
before they came on Emanuel Johnson’s body may be telling
yet another story of stress the Whitehall study in england found an incredible link between stress,
your position in the social hierarchy and how you put on weight. So it may not
be just putting on weight but also the
distribution of that weight and the distribution of that
weight putting it on around the center is
related to position in the hierarchy and that in turn may be related to
chronic stress pathways. So we said, does that happen in monkeys because they organize themselves in a
hierarchy too and it turns out that it does. Subordinate monkeys are more likely to
have fat in their abdomen then are dominant monkeys. I think the
most amazing observation that I’ve made in my lab is this idea that
stress could actually change the way you deposit fat
on your body to me that was a bizarre idea that you
could actually alter the way fat is distributed Sapolsky, Shively and others think stress
could be a critical factor in the global obesity epidemic Even worse fat brought on by stress is dangerous fat. You know that fat
carried on the trunk or actually inside the abdomen is much worse for you
than fat carried elsewhere in the body it behaves differently, it
produces different kinds of hormones and chemicals and has different
effects on your health whatever it is that works for an individual, they need to value stress reduction. I think the problem in
our society is that we don’t value stress reduction we in fact value the opposite We admire the person who not only
multitasks and does two things at once but does five things at once. We
admire that person. How they manage that you know that’s an incredibly stressful way to live we have to change our values
and value people who understand a balanced and serene life. One heartbreaking moment in history
reveals that stress may in fact damage us long before we are even aware Holland late 1944 a brutal winter and a merciless army of
occupation conspire to starve a nation it is known as the Dutch hunger winter
for those who survive today these are haunting memories. I had nothing. I could no longer feed my son. I was so sick. And then you have to take care of a child. I found that terrible. I went to the church at the Dam next to the palace, and asked the priest’s wife if she would raise my child as long as the war took place. Because I can’t do it anymore. dutch researcher Tessa Roseboom had
heard many of those tragic memories she and her team wanted to know if
there were any lingering effects Roseboom knew that our bodies respond to famine in
much the same way they respond to other stressors so she set out to see if the fetuses of women pregnant during these arduous days
could possibly be affected by stress because of meticulous record-keeping by
the Dutch Roseboom was able to identify over 2400
people who could have been impacted. She and her
team analyzed the data from those born during
and after the famine and came to a surprising conclusion. I
think that you could say that these babies were exposed to stress in fetal life and they’re still
suffering the consequences of that now, sixty years later. Many of the Dutch hunger winter
children live today all in their sixties many still bear the
scars of war we found that the babies who were conceived
during the famine have an increased risk of cardiovascular
disease they have more hypercholesterolemia they are more responsive to stress and
generally are in poorer health than people who were born
before the famine or conceived after it researchers think that stress hormones
in a mother’s blood triggered a change in the nervous system
of the fetus as it struggled with starvation this was the fetuses first encounter
with stress six decades later the bodies of these
Dutch hunger winter children still haven’t forgotten. What we now know
is that it’s not just your fat cells that
wind up being vulnerable to build up towards events like this, it’s your brain
chemistry, it’s your capacity to learn it’s your capacity to respond to stress adaptively rather
than maladaptively how readily you fall into depression, how
vulnerable you are to psychiatric disorders yet another realm in which early
experience and early stress can leave a very very bad footprint. If I had had an option I would not have opted to be bipolar but now that I am bipolar I’ll have to live with it. It’s hard for me to be flexible. I am very quick to anger. What the Dutch hunger winter phenomenon
is about is experience, environments start long
before birth and adverse stressful environments can imprint and leave scars lasting a whole lifetime. We are taking fingerprints because no baboon has the same fingerprints as another one. So we just took Gummibear’s and I am hoping to get over to Riff and get his. During this
years multi-generational research, Robert who has spent his career
documenting stresses effects on the individual and on the cell tracks the trail of
stress even deeper into our bodies One of the most interesting new direction in stress
research is taking the effects of stress down to
a bolts and nuts level how cells work, how genes work, that half
a dozen years ago nobody could have imagined. the once unimaginable genetic structures
called telomeres which protect the ends of our chromosomes
from fraying as we age our telomeres shorten. What is
interesting is stress, by way of stress hormones can accelerate the shortening of
telomeres, so the assumption is for the exact same aged guys if you’re a low-ranking guy who’s just
marinating in stress hormones your telomeres are going to be shorter. So
how does this formidable finding apply to us San Rafael California once a week Janet Lawson keeps a very
important appointment. She joined other mothers who share
circumstances that produce chronic unremitting stress. So… but she looses her
balance and that’s the scary part so we just went out actually last night
and bought a new helmet just for fun She’s getting older and wanting more
independence, it’s getting harder. Each of these women is mother to a
disabled child For us my son’s only 8 and and there’s
enough I can handle and I don’t allow myself to go too much out, i can’t. I had a friend recently
who said to me you know I think you really should
consider putting Lexie at a home and that was really stressful in and of itself
to think wahou so… so it’s like how can you even say that? She is, you know a little
girlfriend she’s, even though she can’t really
communicate she loves she loves These remarkable women came to the
attention of biologist doctor Elizabeth Blackburn. I didn’t
directly know the individuals but I know the stories and I am a mother
myself and so when I heard about this cohort I really thought it was worthwhile
finding out what really is happening at the heart of
the cells in these mothers who are doing such a difficult
thing for such a long time. Doctor Blackburn is a leader in the
field of telomere research. We have 46 chromosomes and they are capped off at each end by telomeres. Nobody knew in
humans wether telomeres and their fraying down over
life would be affected by chronic stress, and
so, we decided we would look at this cohort
of chronically stressed mothers. And we
decided to ask what’s happening to their telomeres and to the maintenance of their telomeres. What we found was the length of the telomeres directly relates to the amount of stress somebody is under, and the number of years that they’ve been under the stress. Such
stressed mothers became the focus of a study by doctor Blackburn’s colleague, psychologist Elissa Epel. Mothers of young children are a highly
stressed group. They are often balancing competing demands
like work and child rearing, and often don’t
have time to take care of themselves. So, if you add on top of that, the extra
burden of caring for a child with special needs, it can be
overwhelming. It can tax the very reserves that sustain
people, and if they’re stressed, if they report
stress, they tend to die earlier. These women have shortened telomeres,
decreased activity of this enzyme, and a very very rough number for every
year you were taking care of a chronically ill child, you got roughly six years worth of aging. This is real, this is not just somebody
whining… this is real, medically serious aging going on, and we can see that it is
actually caused by the chronic stress. But there is hope. Doctor Blackburn co-discovered an enzyme, telomerase, that can repair the
damage. It is what I always call the threat of hope… That’s good. That’s good… Yes. Preliminary data suggests that a meeting of minds, such as
this, may actually have a health benefit, by stimulating the healing effects
of telomerase. And laugh and laugh, if you
don’t laugh, forget it, you can’t handle it… It’s… What I found is that the humor is
something… there’s a certain level of black humor
that we have about our kids that only we appreciate, we’re the only
ones who get the jokes, and in a way we are the only ones who are
allowed to laugh at the jokes. One of the questions in the stress field is, you
know, what are the active ingredients that reduce stress and that promote
longevity? And compassion and and caring for others maybe one of those most important
ingredients. So, those maybe the factors that promote longevity and increase telomerase, and keep our cells rejuvenating and
regenerating. So, perhaps connecting with and helping
others can help us to mend ourselves, and maybe
even live longer, healthier lives. Twenty years ago, Robert got a shocking
preview of this idea. The first troop he ever studied, the
baboons he felt closest to and had written books about, suffered a
calamity. It would have a profound effect on his
research. The Keekorok troop is the one
I started with thirty years ago, and they were your basic old baboon
troop at the time, and which means males were aggressive, and society was
highly stratified, and females took a lot of grief, in your
basic off the rack baboon troop. And then about, by now almost twenty
years ago something horrific and scientifically
very interesting happened to that troop. The Keekorok troop took to foraging
for food in the garbage dump of a popular tourist lodge. it was a fatal move. The trash
included meat tainted with tuberculosis. The result was that nearly half the
males in the troop died. Not unreasonably, I got depressed as hell
and pretty damn angry about what happened. You know, when you are 30 years old, you can
afford to expend a lot of emotion on a baboon troop, and there was a lot of emotion there. For Robert, a decade of research appeared
to have been lost. But then he made a curious
observation about who had died and who had survived. It wasn’t random who died. In that troop, if you were aggressive, and if you were
not particularly socially connected, socially affiliative, you didn’t spend your
time grooming and hanging out, if you were that kind of male you died . Every alpha male was gone. The Keekorok troop had been transformed. And what you were
left with was twice as many females as males. And the
males who were remaining were, you know, just to use scientific jargon, they
were good guys. They were not aggressive jerks, they
were nice to the females, they were very socially affiliative, it completely transformed
the atmosphere in the troop. When male baboons reach adolescence, they typically leave their home troop and roam, eventually finding a new troop. And when new adolescent males would join the troop,
they’d come in just as jerky as any adolescent males elsewhere on this
planet, and it would take them about six months to
learn… we’re not like that in this troop. We don’t do stuff like that. We’re not
that aggressive. We spend more time grooming each other. Males are calmer
with each other. You do not dump on a female if you’re in a bad mood. And it takes these new guys about six
months, and they assimilate this style, and you have
baboon culture. And this particular troop has a culture of of very low levels of aggression, and high
levels of social affiliation, they’re doing that twenty years later. And so the tragedy had provided
Robert with a fundamental lesson, not just about cells, but how the absence of stress could impact society.
Do these guys have the same problems with high blood pressure? No. Do these guys have the same
problems with brain chemistry related to anxiety stress hormone levels? Not at all. It’s not just your rank, it is what your rank means in your society.
And the same is true for humans, with only a slight variation. We belong
to multiple hierarchies, and you may have the worst job in your
corporation, and no autonomy and control and predictability, but you’re the captain of the company
softball team that year. And you better bet you are going to have
all sorts of psychological means to decide it’s just a job, 9 to 5, that’s not what
the world is about, what the world is about is softball, I am the head of my team, people
look up to me and you come out of that deciding you are on top
of the hierarchy that matters to you. Well, that worked… and lots of baboon excrement. Which, under the right circumstances, with the right
season’s experiment is a gold mine. Unfortunately, this time around it is just a cage that I have to clean now. I am studying stress for thirty years
now, and I even tell people how they should live differently, so presumably I should have incorporated all of this, and the reality is, like, I am unbelievably stressed, and type A, and poorly coping, and why else would I
study the stuff 80 hours a week? No doubt everything I advises could lose
all its credibility if i keel over dead from a heart attack in my early 50s. I’m not good at dealing with
stress. You know, one thing that works to my
advantage is I love my work and I love every aspect of it, so that’s good… Nonetheless, this is pretty clearly a
different place than the savannah in East Africa. You can do science here that’s very
different and more interesting in some ways, you can
have hot showers on a more regular basis That is a more interesting, varied world in lots of ways but there is a lot out there that you sure
miss. There is a pretty miraculous place, where every meal tastes good, and your are ten times more aware of every sensation.
This is a hard place to come to year after year without getting,
I think, a very different metabolism and temperament. I am more extroverted here, I am more, more happy… It is a hard place not to be happy. So one antidote to stress may be finding a place
where we have control but how do we reckon with all the time
we spend at work I would say what we’ve learned from the Whitehall study, from the studies of
non-human primates is the conditions in which people live
and work are absolutely vital for the health Senior civil servant Sara Woodhall enjoys the benefits of control. I
don’t think I suffer from stress I don’t work
a 100 hours a week I control the amount of work that I do
to make sure that I can continue to deliver long-term Control… the amount of control is
intimately related to where you are in the occupational
hierarchy and what we have found is in general people report to us that things have
got worse. That the amount of work stress has gone
up. Their illness rates go up. Where people
report to us that they got more control they’re being treated more fairly at
work, there is more justice in the amount of treatment, so things
are getting better, the amount of illness goes down. I’ve
been very lucky I I have never experienced any problems with my health. But not everyone is so lucky. So is there a prescription for the vast
majority of us who aren’t at the top? Give people more
involvement in the work give them more say in what they’re doing give them more reward for the amount of
efforts they put out and it might well be you have not just a
healthier workplace but a more productive workplace as well. I’ve managed to achieve a degree of
control at the moment I’m in a very good
position this is the first time were I feel I have had a boss who appreciates me. He doesn’t
dominate team meetings he sits back he invites people to contribute, he lets
other people chair He’s a real manager and he, from the
start when I returned of my latest sick leave just six months ago he was so positive I think I feel
sufficiently empowered Who would have imagined that Robert’s baboons would point us
humans towards a stress-free utopia. This may
sound a little fanciful but I think what we’re
trying to create is a better society. The implications
both of the baboons and of the British civil services is how
can we create a society that has the conditions
that will allow people to flourish. And that’s where this is heading to
create a better society that promotes human
flourishing So what does the baboons teach the average
person in there don’t bite somebody because you’re
having a bad day don’t just displace on them in any sort of
manner, social affiliation is a remarkably powerful thing and that said by somebody who lives in a
world where ambition and drive and type A things and all of that sort of things
dominates those things are really important and one
of the greatest forms of sociality is giving rather than receiving and all those things make for a better world Another one of the things that baboons teach us is if they are able to, in one
generation transform what are supposed to be textbooks social systems, sort of engraved in
stone, we don’t have an excuse when we say
they’re certain inevitabilities about human social systems And so, the haunting question that
endures from Robert’s life work are we brave enough to learn from a
baboon? The Kikarak troop didn’t just
survive without stress they thrived. Can we?

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

100 thoughts on “Stress, Portrait of a Killer – Full Documentary (2008)

  1. 15:17 This woman tows the Party Line. She's finds the civil service "dynamic" and "exciting" oh lordy. Feed me more

  2. How ironic, Sapolsky is his own best experiment. What is so different about his Stanford lifestyle, which he compares with his African sojurnes? Population density, level of physical exercise, healthy diet, hierarchical position, and, perhaps most importantly, direct contact with nature in the raw. Could he be describing the very issue his scientific work has always avoided: population density stress? Sapolsky apparently has never read the work of biologists before him who conducted hundreds of experiments on animal crowding: Calhoun, Southwick, Christian, etc. Sad. In the end Sapolsky is just another reductionist over-focused arrogant academic. He seems to gain no insight into his own selfstudy, comparing his own life experience between crowded, over-populated, nature-alienated, highly stress filled Palo Alto homebase, and his life in Africa. He describes this contrast on his video, but has no insight into its scientific implications. Want the whole story? Read "Stress R Us" on Amazon Books.

  3. I want to know how many generations it will take for the larger more aggressive bully type male baboons to be born in the frequency of which would yield a development of this new social paradigm in regards to sapolsky's baboon Troop?

    Or whether or not that's going to happen at all? Perhaps it won't happen frequently enough to have much of an effect on the phenotype expressions that continue to be prevalent on words into the future?

  4. Holy fuck so many pseudo-intellectuals in the comments. Don’t watch shit you can’t understand nor have the knowledge to comprehend, guys.

  5. so interesting, to me, how many people take away a "we must kill the ones at the top in order to thrive" message from this video…which is not only is NOT what the science here actually shows, but actually goes against what the video tells us. it actually shows that our own attitude about where we are in any hierarchy has MUCH more to do with our level of stress and therefore our health.

    our own personal life experience/filter through which we take in info from this video, and/or any other info, must play a huge role in how we interpret it…i guess that's the key word right there…"interpret".

    anyway, the video makes sense to me intellectually, and "rings true" for me emotionally.

    i came across this video by accident, but i'm def now curious enough to find more of prof Sapolsky's work and check it out. i really enjoy watching him…both his research and the fact that he shared and involved his wife and especially their kids. very cool.

    all, of course, in my humble opinion. 🙂

  6. 1.The hen pecked man makes the asshole boss.
    2. "You gotta serve somebody"
    3. Don't give up too much of yourself to your co-workers, it might come back to bite you.
    4. How many "things" do you actually need?
    5. In the end you are really alone – get used to it.
    6. You never truly know anybody.
    7. The choices we make early in life set the table for what comes later.
    8. When your mind stops growing, you die.
    9. The idea that you have a special "love" or need to find your "passion" in order to be fulfilled as a human being is a dangerous myth.
    10. The mass media is scientifically designed to alter your behaviour.

  7. Higher rank ones aren't much effected by the stress, so in order to make others weaker they induce stress to others. Since lower rank ones are more susceptible to stress, their immune system weakens, makes/keep them physically weak so that the higher rank ones could stay in power longer. It all makes sense. It's like the more fat you have the more alcohol you can drink, the more muscle you have the more stress hormones you can stand. Remember, in animal kingdom, higher rank one decline was they start getting older.

  8. I think the higher rank bamboos died for eating the meat from the waste land not because of their susceptibility to TB but because they didn't allow the lower rank ones to eat. I wished that was made more clear!

  9. This stress is horrible, I had to move countries to get away from a not a very nice person, this flight or fight feeling I have had for 18yrs and I struggle to get it to stop. Its horrible…

  10. I feel this has really opened up my thoty teenage brain. I used to go and complain about how stressed I was about the boy I liked not sitting next to me, but now that I am more indepth on the consequences of stress, I can choose not to make light of it. Huh.

  11. So basically if you have a handicapped child, you basically lost decades of your own life by taking care of it. Spartans knew their shit

  12. Do the monkeys torture each other to protest the hellishness and absurdity of living in a game of torture? Is it the cries for help and protests about cruelty systems the very thing that perpetuates them? Clarification through exaggeration/escalation.

  13. My question would be: If the subordinate baboons have a compromised immune system, why were they the ones that survived?

  14. This documentary is about stress. I can't imagine a more inappropriate theme tune. It sounds like something from a 50s kids cartoon show.

  15. the film itself is stress inducing with such manic cuts, stock footage, cheesy piano muzak with drums beating like some gladiator sport .. stressed out americans running wild from pillar to post ..

  16. Comments from few years ago/when it was first uploaded: about how it taught them something, jokes about how it ironically stresses them out, people talking about what relieves their stress, etc.
    Recent comments: op hates mentally ill people

  17. the hair family…heliobacter pyloris…bismuth will kill it. You also inherit stressed arteries. If ancestors were stressed then the genetics changed and were passed to you 🙂

  18. My massage teacher LY all but assured me that that was how I would die because I was apparently getting into a puss fight with a skunk, whoever she meant. That's exactly whats happening now. I am dying from it literally, although others can't see it. Looks like she was right! It is the perfect way to kill someone. Please note this everyone. I had also just left a job with my narc ex best friend and my ex and parents also found me to be a threat cops won't help me, and I understand someone is now afraid they will be caught and have staged dirt to smear me and isolate me from everyone. My ex BS has also repeatedly been mentioned. And I understand money is what was kept from me and someone wants me dead. 602-885-7665. Can't even get help from those who know what's being done to me.

  19. I really like the idea of including family, in this type of testing. Not to mention that I am actually learning more of my demise…manic depression, which stress is involved. Thank you professor!

  20. That was so relaxing to watch I forgot about my stress
    When they mentioned death
    Lol I stress my self to the point of unstressed
    I’m was stressed in the womb
    And everyday after that til this day
    The body cells die and renewed
    If your cells are not regenerating
    It’s photo coping the same structure
    So to trigger regeneration of me cells there must be a 360 degree life change
    You adapt to your new environment and you trigger new genes

  21. 52.40 mark ….sounds like an introverted manager is being described ….low key, , inclusive, happy to let others have a say, not obsessed with dominating everything, all the time …. basically the kind of manager that most people would like to work for

  22. At 44:00 So what happened to the males is that the meat had been tainted with a TB chemical and we the people are eating that meat to make us a more dumbed down society, so they can have it over us.

  23. My grandfather (WW2 vet) was one of the Canadian soldiers in Holland during the Dutch Hunger Winter. He told us stories of the Dutch children scrounging through their camp garbage for food.

  24. FASCINATING 46:24 – just think of how we could transform our human society if we can bring our toxic elements into harmony, instead of rewarding and allowing it.

  25. Very educative video and i now understand why more students are being referred by their professors to watch this video. You can also check out sample stress discussion questions with sample answers related to this video at

  26. With stress, You literally have to beat your ass and take control to tell yourself to stop and breathe. It's all mental control.

  27. I made a point to stop stressing about the things I have no control over and it was the best decision I ever made.

  28. Watching this for my required health and hygiene class. its like 2 pages of work i already know but having to pinpoint where i heard it in here

  29. Recite the Quran or listen to it and it will alleviate all your stress. That is why we need religion, the correct one that is. The Quran is the Spirit here on earth by which we can make the impossible possible. We are made not just from the material but also from the spirit and therefore we are incomplete without a spiritual source to feed our spirit.

  30. modern life is so unnatural. we aren't allowed to feel the emotions our ancestors felt. how can i feel positive when there are hackers stalking me? and
    yes i have proof. The phone store won't help, nor can the small town police help.
    it's best not to put yourself in a 'run for your life' situation but that's how being hacked makes you feel.
    it's kind of why i live out in the country of Japan where depopulation is much more apparent. Japan is a safe country.

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